I was lucky enough to grow up as personal computers were entering our homes, I owned a BBC Model B when I was too young to really use it except for games, however Elite is still, to this day, the best game I have ever played.
My father and I spent hours, literally hours, painstakingly copying programs from magazines into the computer to make sprites run around or coloured rockets fall from the sky. Having a machine that could ape some of the things our Atari 2600 could do was amazing but I was probably too young to really get my head around the possibilities it represented.
After my house burned to the ground and took my BBC Model B with it I managed to get hold of a BBC Master, the Model B’s beefier, sexier, more expandable successor. I soon found out about how people were connecting their computers together to bring us to the brink of nuclear war, steal phone calls and play RPGs online.
I ran out and got a modem as soon as I possibly could. Well, actually I bugged my dad to get me a modem as fast as he could, the core idea is the same.
It was, quite frankly, pants-wettingly exciting to install the Beebug internal modem into my computer and connect it to the telephone system. From there it was a question of exploring, finding a telephone number, ideally local, that housed a computer that might want to talk to yours.
I spent countless hours on Bulletin Board Systems, run by System Operators with strange pseudonyms. They were places where you could chat, exchange mail, play games, find images, programs and other diversions.
Want a program to help recover data from a 5¼” floppy disk your dog chewed up and put holes in? I found one.
Looking for someone who is into a particular roleplaying game? I met a lot of them.
Want to see grainy animation of people having sex? Yes, I met someone who took great delight in creating this.
During my time spent wandering around the start of the digital netscape I had adventures, found wonders and treasures beyond belief.
I racked up over £400 telephone bill in a single month playing a multiplayer game called Shades on Prestel. This was back when £400 was a lot of money, and I caught hell for it.
On The Gnome At Home I met an incredible variety of people who would otherwise have been unknown to me. One of the people I knew, a music critic for a number of UK papers, happened to live just around the corner from me and so I went for a real life chat and carrot cake. It was very tasty cake.
I started playing new and exciting Role Playing Games with people I met on the BBS scene, including Call of Cthulu and Cyberpunk, the original version that was set in the year 2013.
Of course, playing around on the systems of the day wouldn’t have been complete without looking for special phone numbers. Phone numbers that could, maybe, just, get you in to trouble, arrested or worse. I won’t go into details but I can tell you that my computer did once talk to a computer at the Kremlin, or at least a Russian military machine that didn’t want to let me in.
I think it is fair to say that my cohort were some of the first, if not the very first, to have access to so many people, ideas and sources of information without leaving the house. There are very few things that I can do on today’s Internet that I could not do on yesterday’s Bulletin Boards, the difference is arguably one of quality, not kind.
I still own that BBC Master, I wonder if there are any numbers that would want to talk to it…
22 August 2013 - bulletin board system sysop internet